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Plant Based Proteins 101

Plant Based Proteins 101

When I speak about vegan diet or plant based lifestyle as I like to call it, the first question I get is what do you eat? As if kale, green salad and cucumber were the only options…

Then right after comes the question about proteins, where do you get your proteins from?

The fitness and nutrition industries focus so much on calories and proteins, it is very difficult to fight against all the cliches and false ideas. The purpose of this article is not to convince, but to explain. I personally believe in plant based lifestyle as I think it is the most nourishing and sustainable one. I’ll share in this article a few facts about proteins learnt during my health coaching and nutrition education, as well as different plant based sources I’ve experimented with.

First of all, what are proteins?

Proteins are made out of molecules called amino acids which linked together form long protein chains. Some of these amino acids can be produced by your body while essential amino acids come from foods. Proteins are so important and our body could not function without. They are use to make muscles, organs, skin, enzymes, hormones….

A common concern is that plant based diets lack sufficient proteins. Let’s make clear that most nutrition and health organizations recommend only a moderate amount of proteins about 0.8 g of protein per kilogram of body weight means 44 g per day for a woman of 55 kg and 56 g for a man of 70 kg.

As an example a vegan plate with half a sweet potatoes, half an avocado, and ¼ cup of lentils and some green salad with 5 almonds contains already around 40 g of proteins.

As you can see with a balanced plant based diet it is not that difficult to reach the daily protein recommendation intake.
But more than the quantity the quality of proteins really matter (and I don’t consider whey proteins as part of the latter category :))

Here are a few examples of plant based rich foods:

  • Tofu, Tempeh and Edamame
  • Tofu contains about 10 g of protein per ½ cup, Edamame contains 8.5 g of protein per ½ cup and Tempeh about 15 g of protein per ½ cup

    All three are a great source of calcium and iron which make them good dairy products substitutes

  • Lentils
  • Cooked lentils contain 9 g of protein per ½ cup

    Rich in folate, manganese and iron, Lentils also provide approximately 50% of the recommended daily fiber intake, plus it has been shown that this type of fiber feeds the good bacteria, healthy gut as a bonus!

  • Chickpeas and Most Varieties of Beans
  • Around 7.25 g per ½ cup

    They are also excellent sources of complex carbs, fiber, iron, folate, phosphorus, potassium, manganese

  • Nutritional Yeast
  • This complete source of plant protein provides the body with 14 g of protein and 7 g of fiber per ½ cup

    Fortified nutritional yeast is also an excellent source of zinc, magnesium, copper, manganese and all the B vitamins, including B12 :)

  • Protein-rich vegetables
  • Leafy greens and veggies contain protein. Eaten alone, they are not enough to meet daily protein requirements, but they can increase protein intake, particularly when combined with other protein-rich foods

    My favorite: Broccoli: it contains about 4 g of protein, Kale 2 g of protein per cup, 5 medium mushrooms 3 g

  • Spirulina
  • This algae is the highest protein rich food on the planet!

    2 tbsp contain 8 g of complete protein, in addition to cover 22% of your daily requirements of iron and thiamin and 42% of the daily recommended amount of copper

    Spirulina also contains magnesium, riboflavin, manganese, potassium and essential fatty acids...superfood it is!

  • Amaranth and Quinoa
  • Gluten free grains ;) They don’t grow from grasses like other cereal grains do. They contain 5 g per ½ cup

  • Oats
  • ½ cup of oats provides approximately 6 g of protein and 4 g of fiber as well as a decent amounts of magnesium, zinc, phosphorus and folate. Oats are not considered a complete protein however they contain better quality protein than other commonly consumed grains like rice and wheat

  • Chia Seeds
  • Chia seeds are a complete source of protein and contain 2 g of protein per tbsp. They also contain a good amount of iron, calcium, selenium and magnesium, as well as omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants and various other beneficial plant compounds… another superfood!

  • Peanuts
  • Not only high in proteins, peanuts are full health fats, and may improve heart health. They  contain approximately 21g of protein per ½ cup.

  • Almonds
  • 17 g of protein per ½ cup, also high in vitamin E, it is a great food for beautiful skin and healthy eyes.

    This is by no means an exhaustive list but it gives an indication of the different sources of proteins you could include in your diet.

    To sum up, you can avoid animal proteins if you want to and eat a balanced plant based diet that supports a healthy body and reduces the risks of inflammations (and disease risk).

    I hope this article was helpful I didn’t speak about protein powder supplements, I’ll share my view on this point as well as a few tips for a plant based protein balanced nutrition in a second article: Protein 102! 


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